By STEVE KRAH
Fortified with knowledge that he gained playing in Indiana and lessons learned since a Kentucky native is passing along baseball wisdom in the Commonwealth as owner/pitching coordinator at Pitching Performance Lab.
Opened in October 2019 by Chad Martin, the Lexington business has trained more than 300 players and currently works with about 200. PPL shares space and partners with Watts Performance Systems, owned by Drew Watts.
According to the WPS website: “The collaborative approach to baseball training offered by Watts Performance Systems and the Pitching Performance Lab is like nothing else available in central Kentucky. Throwing athletes who train at our facility receive training guidance that addresses their specific needs both from a skill standpoint and a movement/strength standpoint.”
Says Martin, “We’re integrating strength and skill together to make sure every athlete’s individual needs are met.”
The plan is not rigid. It is adaptable so adjustments can be made depending on the player’s needs.
One size does not fit all.
“We talk to our athletes and see what are goals are,” says Martin. “We don’t emphasize velocity alone.”
Martin and his instructors utilize motion-capture technology such as TrackMan and Rapsodo, which gives feedback on vertical and horizontal break, release angle and height, spin rate and efficiency and tilt and helps in the process of creating a separation in various pitches.
While those these things are helpful, the idea is not to get too caught up in technical jargon.
“It’s a lot of information even for me,” says Martin. “It can be something as simple as a grip adjustment or a visual cue.
“We always go simple first. Our goal is not to overcomplicate pitching. We try to stay away from really big words because it doesn’t really matter.”
Of all the players trained by PPL, 25 to 30 have been strictly position players who don’t pitch. There have been many two-way players and pitcher-onlys.
With non-pitchers, the goal is to make them a better overall thrower with their arm speed and path.
Martin is a board member and coach with Commonwealth Baseball Club travel organization and is to coach the 17U Xpress team this summer with trips planned to Grand Park in Westfield, Ind. CBC teams begin at 13U with some designated Xpress and others Grays. Depending on the level, some teams will compete in events at Prep Baseball Report events at LakePoint Sports campus in Emerson, Ga.
Travel ball is about college exposure. There are opportunities at many levels.
“We are definitely not D-I or bust,” says Martin. “We look for programs where we feel comfortable sending kids.”
Martin, 30, grew up in Lexington, where he graduated from Dunbar High School in 2008. He was recruited to Vincennes by Ted Thompson (now head coach at Tecumseh, Ind., High School) and played two seasons (2009 and 2010) for Trailblazers head coach Chris Barney and pitching coaches Scott Steinbrecher and Jeremy Yoder.
“I wouldn’t be able to do what I do if it wasn’t for (my coaches),” says Martin. “I’m tickled to death to be able to coach and do it as my job.”
Martin made 36 mound appearances for the Hoosiers (17 starts) and went 4-8 with a 4.08 earned run average. He struck out 81 batters in 139 innings.
Selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 10th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft, Martin relieved in 14 games with the Arizona Cubs in 2012 and played a few games with the independent Florence (Ky.) Freedom in 2013.
Martin remembers Barney’s approach.
“He was always real supportive and real,” says Martin. “He didn’t lie about how he thought we were performing. That was a good thing.
“I thought I was really good and I wasn’t. I decided to work harder.”
Martin thrived in the junior college culture.
“We had some long days in the fall,” says Martin. “Juco is synonymous for doubleheaders all the time.
“It’s a good opportunity to get reps.”
As younger coaches, Steinbrecher (who played at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville, Tenn.) and Yoder (who had been a graduate assistant at Carson-Newman University in Jefferson City, Tenn.) introduced new wave concepts.
Smith (who is now head coach at Arizona State University) was a straight shooter like Barney.
“He had a real good ability to be able to kick you in the butt and pat you on the back,” says Martin. “He was able to give players the right source of motivation. He got into my rear end a bunch of times. Having expectations is something I needed — some guard rails to keep me in-check and focused.
“I really enjoyed playing for him.”
Martin appreciated Neal’s way of explaining pitching concepts.
“We’d talk about what location worked better for setting up certain pitches,” says Martin. “It was more about getting outs and not so much mechanics.”
In pro ball, Martin had to adjust from starter to reliever.
“I’d long toss like I did as a starter then sit for seven innings,” says Martin. “I got hurt my first outing.”
In the minors, Martin saw the importance of routines and taking care of the body.
But the biggest takeaway was the anxiety component. Players can care too much about what people think and implode.
“It can be extremely stressful,” says Martin. “You can be around some of the best players on Planet Earth and wonder if you belong.
“It helped from a mental standpoint.”
He passes that know-how along to his PPL and travel ball players.
“We put a big emphasis on the mental side,” says Martin. “We want them to be prepared for what they’re going to encounter during a game. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns.
“There are coping strategies when things go wrong so there are not as many peaks and valleys.”
Martin says younger players tend to be very emotional and there’s no shame in getting upset or embarrassed.
“You’ve just got to learn to process it and let it go,” says Martin. “It seems to help.
“Some players are better at it than others.”
When Indiana was recruiting Martin they wanted to see how he would handle hard times.
Neal (who is now coaching at Loveland High School in Ohio) attended four or five games where Martin pitched well and sent short messages afterward.
When Martin had it rough in a fall outing the conversation got a little more intense.
“They wanted to see how I would handle adversity,” says Martin. “It’s damage control.
“Things are going to go bad at some point.”